Talking the Talk – Surviving a Whisky Conversation

You attend your first spirits festival or whisky tasting event. It’s exciting. As you take your first sip, you are hit with a barrage of information. Interesting. More so if you understood it. It sort of makes your head spin. You want to enjoy a nice whisky, not learn a new language. The solution?
Here are the basic terms to let you follow the conversation and hide the fact that you are an uninformed novice;

Nose – what the whisky smells like. Fairly obvious. Lots of flowery terms.
Palette – a code word for what the whisky tastes like. Bitter, sweet, harsh, smooth, etc
Body – how the whisky feels when you swish it around your mouth. Oily, burn, acid, thick, tingling.
Finish – the taste that is left in your mouth after you swallow the whisky. As in when you ‘finish’ the drink.
Dram – a small serving of whisky. The size that you get at a tasting event, so that you aren”t loaded drunk by your ninth one. Derivation – wee dram. Usually means that you’re planning on having a bunch of whisky, starting with just a wee dram.
Expression – essential term when you are hanging around with whisky people. It’s the latest version of a whisky – ie this year’s expression. “This latest expression is blah, blah, blah.”
Mash – all of the whisky making ingredients floating around in a big vat. It eventually produces alcohol, thanks to the hard working yeast, the true heroes of whisky making.
Neat – no ice, no mix, no water, no little umbrella. Just whisky. In a glass. At room temperature. The way the whisky gods intended it.
Proof – a crazy term for the alcohol content of booze. Instead of just stating the percentage, they double the number and call it the proof. Like a headache the next morning. Proof that you drank too much.
Butt – a really big cask used for aging whisky. I like big butts, I cannot lie….
Wash – what mash becomes when it is ready for distilling. Locked and loaded (with alcohol).
Phenols – the teeny molecules in smoke that make the whisky taste smoky. Makes whisky peaty because making whisky phenolly just doesn’t sound right.
Unicorn – a rare, hard-to-find whisky that is really good. The holy grail. The sip of a lifetime.
White Dog – un-aged american whiskey. Commonly known as moonshine. When you just can’t wait three years…
Chill Filtered – running whisky through a special filter to remove stuff which makes it cloudy. Usually poo-pooed by whisky snobs.
Feints – the undrinkable portion which is diverted at the end of distillation. Not for the feint of heart.
Reflux – the heavy oils and molecules that don’t make it to the top of the still during distillation. Also, the effect on your body of the pizza, chips, Doritos and beer that you ate last night.

So there you have it. A small percentage of the whisky terms that you may come across . But enough ammunition to get you into the game the next time you are brought into a whisky conversation. Slainte! (Gaelic term for Good Health! or Cheers!). Now you’re ready. See you next time.

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